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Maryland may finally protect child sex-trafficking victims from prosecution

Source: The Washington Post | March 31, 2022

If an adult pays to sexually abuse a child, that child is a victim. The adult is the criminal. But under the law, that’s not always true: In 23 states, it is still possible to prosecute a child for prostitution. Maryland may become the next state to make that illegal.

After years of legislative limbo, the state’s General Assembly is quickly advancing a “safe harbor” bill that intends to protect victims of child sex trafficking from being punished. If the bill becomes law, individuals 17 and younger can no longer be charged with prostitution and may be shielded from other charges that result from their trafficking.

“It will lead to better outcomes for trafficking victims, improve resiliency for survivors, and ensure our justice system is focused on true offenders and not on victims,” Del. Brooke E. Lierman (D-Baltimore City), the bill’s longtime champion, testified Tuesday before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

Between 2010 and 2020, 110 youths were arrested for prostitution and commercialized vice in the state, according to the University of Maryland SAFE Center for Human Trafficking Survivors. Thirty-three of those arrested were 15 or younger.


“Our laws are not compatible with the way brainwashing and trauma occurs,” said Amelia Rubenstein, who oversees direct services at the SAFE Center. “For teenagers, especially, the process of recognizing there is exploitation going on can take years.” Instead, Rubenstein said, it will be up to the police officers, public defenders, prosecutors, social workers and judges to recognize when a minor might qualify for safe harbor protection. The bill comes with no funding to train those groups about how the law should work.


UMD SAFE Center Team Statement on Racial Injustice

The UMD SAFE Center decries the structural racism that remains as a toxic legacy of our country’s history and permeates our society today, and we are working to ensure that we are an actively anti-racist institution.